The last time I was in New York, I went to dinner with a group of close friends and we fell into a spirited conversation about snooping through other people’s stuff. I admitted that I was a medicine cabinet snoop, that I tended to walk into friends’ bathrooms and reflexively open them up. Not because I’m interested in what meds people are taking (pretty much everyone I know and love is medicated anyway); I’m much more taken with the bottles of cologne, eye cream, face wash, lotion, and tubes of salves lying within and how all of these things are arranged. Most people’s medicine cabinets, as it turns out, are organized far more artfully than my own, and when I walk away from someone else’s bathroom, I’m usually convinced of nothing other than that I am a horrible, incurable slob.
My friends to whom I made this confession that night were mortified (and I’m sure they all lock their cabinets now when I’m coming over). But I never saw anything wrong with it. I wasn’t judging them, I was judging myself. I find it fascinating that respecting this boundary is considered a social given, in life, at least. But in death, particularly in the death of someone famous, the rules change.
Of all the things that have been written about Heath Ledger in the last few days, what got my attention was the TMZ post, “More Than Five Drugs Found in Heath’s Apartment”:
NYPD sources tell TMZ that nearly full pill bottles containing the anti-anxiety medications Alprazolam (Xanax), Diazepam (Valium) and Lorazepam (Ativan) were found in the apartment. The sleeping medication Zoplicone (Lunesta) and the sedative Temazepam (Restoril) — which is used by people with “debilitating insomnia” — were also found.
After reading this, I went to the drawer of my nightstand, where I keep my prescriptions, and took inventory:
There’s also an eight year-old bottle of painkillers, an anti-seizure medication that was prescribed for its sedative properties, and another sedative mixed in there. 7 pill bottles, all legally prescribed (as the pills found in Ledger’s apartment were). And that’s not counting the bottles and bottles I’ve thrown out because the meds hadn’t worked for me, which include: Temazapam, Ambien, Ambien CR, Rozarem, Klonopin, and Trazodone.
Because the circumstances surrounding Ledger’s death are still unknown, and rumors of the actor’s struggle with addiction and drug-abuse are floating about, we’re supposed to infer meaning in those 5 pill bottles found in his apartment. I’ve never struggled with substance-addiction, but I have had, as some of you know, crippling insomnia for the last three years. I’ve done yoga, acupuncture, therapy, drunk sludgy Chinese herbs, taken up running, become a gym rat, beaten my bed with a plastic bat, and gone to a sleep clinic, where they prescribed me a book. Yes, that’s right, a book. The last six months I’ve been tapering off all my meds and I’m down to only one. Hopefully in one month, I’ll be facing life and sleep without them, to see what that’s like. But there are pill bottles everywhere in my bedroom still, most of them full, many of them failed experiments, nothing close to the silver bullet.
What I’m trying to say is that what’s in our medicine cabinets may reveal something deeper about ourselves, shading in our secrets, our pain, our private struggles, our lowest moments. But does what we have in tucked away in our drawers and cabinets tell the story of a life?
I, for one, don’t believe so.
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